The Blog

Wronging Shirley Sherrod

Andrew Breitbart, the NAACP, and the Obama administration owe her an apology.

12:45 PM, Jul 21, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

On July 19, Andrew Breitbart posted a video of USDA official Shirley Sherrod speaking at an NAACP event. In that clip, Sherrod told the audience that she had once withheld the "full force of what I could do" for a white farmer because of his race. Shortly after the video was posted Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, reportedly under pressure from the White House, fired Sherrod.

NAACP president Ben Jealous applauded the firing:

[Sherrod's] actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.

The reaction from many in the audience is disturbing. We will be looking into the behavior of NAACP representatives at this local event and take any appropriate action.

We thank those who brought this to our national office’s attention, as there are hundreds of local fundraising dinners each year.

But the full video of Sherrod's speech, released last night, reveals that Sherrod was telling a story of how she overcame her own racial views--shaped in part by the fact, she said, that her "father was murdered by a white man" who was "never punished"--to help the white farmer in question. 

Sherrod said, in the moments before the first video clip posted by Breitbart begins, that:

When I made that commitment, I was making that commitment to black people and to black people only, but you know God will show you things and he'll put things in your path so you realize that the struggle is really about poor people.

And after the initial clip cut off, Sherrod said:

I couldn't say 45 years ago, I couldn't stand here and say what I'm saying -- what I will say to you tonight. Like I told, God helped me to see that its not just about black people, it's about poor people. And I've come a long way. I knew that I couldn't live with hate, you know. As my mother has said to so many, if we had tried to live with hate in our hearts, we'd probably be dead now.

See more quotations from Sherrod's speech here.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack stood by his decision yesterday to fire Sherrod--even after the white farmer expressed support for her, and Sherrod tried to explain the full context of her remarks. According to Vilsack, it didn't really matter whether Sherrod had repented. The admission that she had ever withheld her full support for a white farmer would "create a situation that make it really hard for her to do her job."

But this morning Vilsack released a new statement saying he would "conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts" in Sherrod's case.

The NAACP claimed it was "snookered" by Breitbart. On Fox News last night, Andrew Breitbart defended his decision to post the video. 

Breitbart said that he had received the edited video from a source in Georgia and decided to post it in response to the NAACP's unsubstantiated claim that Tea Party activists hurled racial epithets at black congressmen.

What this video shows and what the NAACP affirms in their initial rebuke was not just that Shirley Sherrod--what she said said was wrong, but that the audience was laughing and applauding while she described how she maltreated the farmer.

The NAACP crowd did laugh at the 17:25 mark in this video.

Still, Breitbart's posting of the partial clip, which leaves out crucial information, was unfair to Sherrod.

The edited tape wrongly portrayed Sherrod as a racist. It's ironic that it was posted the day before the Daily Caller reported that liberal journalist Spencer Ackerman wrote in 2008 on JournoList that liberal writers should baselessly tar conservatives as racists in an attempt to kill the Jeremiah Wright story. This video was similarly intended to wrongly portray someone as a racist in order to score political points. The fact that Breitbart's source, rather than Breitbart himself, edited the tape to depict Sherrod as a racist doesn't mitigate the wrong done to her.

Sherrod deserves an apology from Breitbart for posting the edited video, and even more so from the Obama administration and the NAACP for throwing her under the bus.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers